Students

Isobel Foster on building skills after graduation.
THERE is an inevitable sense of relief once you have secured your first assistant psychologist or mental health post after graduating. So how do you make it a success and continue to build on your clinical and academic skills? These 10 tips come from both my own experience, pieces of advice I have picked up along the way, and the inevitable learning curve I found myself on during my assistant psychologist posts.
THERE is an inevitable sense of relief once you have secured your first assistant psychologist or mental health post after graduating. So how do you make it a success and continue to build on your clinical and academic skills?
These 10 tips come from both my own experience, pieces of advice I have picked up along the way, and the inevitable learning curve I found myself on during my assistant psychologist posts.

1. Reading – the most obvious of all.
Ask for any particular texts, papers that are the most useful in the field you work in. Join the local NHS postgraduate library – where you can request papers and access publications and journals, as well as read more specialised books. Lastly, if you have access to the internet, there is a wealth of useful web resources. For example www.psyclick.org.uk is set up to offer information to prospective clinical psychologists.

2. Get to know who’s who in your department. It’s vital to get to know the different members of a team, especially since most psychology services are based within multidisciplinary teams. At times it may be appropriate to seek another professional’s advice, so get chatting and networking – it’s easiest when you are new.

3. Try to spend time with different members of your team or department. For example in a community mental health team see if you can shadow the social worker or the community psychiatric nurse. You will see how different perspectives complement each other and can enhance your own skills. Seeing how different professionals interview and assess clients will help you develop your techniques, be comfortable when joint working, and feel at ease when it comes to your turn!

4. Continuing professional development. All assistant psychologists have allocated time for CPD. Use it! Reading is essential but why not allocate time to linking up with other assistant psychologists in the local area? The Psyclick website provides access to local assistant psychologist groups in your area (see http://psyclick.34sp.com/groups for further details). Such groups provide opportunities to share ideas with others in a similar position and gain insight into other people’s jobs. They can also offer support and advice through the application and interview process for doctorate courses.
Once you have graduated why not upgrade your BPS membership? By doing this you will be able to join regional groups of the Society (see www.bps.org.uk/the-society/networks/region/region_home.cfm) and become an affiliate member of one of the Divisions of the Society – for example the Division of Clinical Psychology, which boasts its own magazine and organises its own events offering you further information in an area you may wish to specialise in or you have a particular interest in – a very appropriate way to spend some of your CPD time.

5. Research – use your CPD time to look into research topics. Aim to write a research paper at the end of it. However, remember to always approach your supervisor first if you want to carry out research where you work. If you are unable to carry out research in your position, it doesn’t end there! Why not try writing for the student page of The Psychologist or for the students’ magazine Psychtalk? This gives you an opportunity to practise your writing skills and the experience of getting something published.

6. Seek out staff training days and sign yourself up! These provide invaluable training and will help to sharpen your skills in specific areas. It is a more interesting way to gain information than textbooks, and a good way of meeting other professionals.

7. Be creative and innovative. If you feel there is something that you would like to be doing, think about ways in which it might be done and then tactfully approach your supervisor. You will be constrained by what you are employed to do and what opportunities are available. However, most psychology services are also aware of the difficulties assistants face in securing a place on the clinical doctorate course and the need for building a repertoire of skills. Remember always to keep the work you were employed to do as your top priority.

8. Contact the trainee clinical psychologist. See if you can spend some time with them – ask them how they progressed onto clinical training, what experience they gained, and what they are learning now
that perhaps they wish they had learnt beforehand – after all it wasn’t so long ago that they were in your position. They may also be able to offer tips for the application and interview process for the clinical doctorate course.

9. Keep a running list of the skills you are learning – clinical, research, and others. When it comes to making your application for the clinical doctorate course you will have a record at your fingertips.

10. Keep it all in perspective – assistant psychologists and relevant mental health posts are hard to come by. Some graduates feel disillusioned when their job does not meet their expectations. View your position as a learning experience, and try to apply the above to whatever post you are in.
The road to becoming a clinical psychologist is long and it takes time to build up the experience and training you require. However I can honestly say that my assistant posts have done nothing to take away my enthusiasm for the profession. It is an enjoyable and diverse profession so enjoy the ride and make the most of what the position can offer.

- Isobel Foster is an assistant clinical psychologist.

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